An accused in the Mahadev betting case, who has been named by the Enforcement Directorate as one of the top management of the online app, on Sunday named Chhattisgarh chief minister Bhupesh Baghel and a 2008-batch IPS officer for allegedly accepting bribe in exchange for granting protection from arrest. Identified as Shubham Soni, he alleged in a video message from Dubai that Baghel advised him to go to the UAE, and that he is the “real owner” of the betting app.
Baghel, meanwhile, hit out at television news channels for running the statement of the accused simply because Soni is using his name. He called it a bid to defame him for the benefit of the BJP, merely 48 hours before Chhattisgarh casts its vote in the first phase of the assembly elections on November 7.
Soni is wanted by the Enforcement Directorate (ED) in the money laundering case related to the Mahadev betting app. According to ED sources, in response to summons under Section 50 of the Prevention of Money Laundering Act (PMLA), the accused has sent an email to the agency inter alia.
The case involves allegations of money laundering and use of illegal funds during the election by the chief minister. Two other accused in the case — state police constable Bhim Singh Yadav and a “cash courier” by the name of Asim Das — are in custody at present.
The Centre also issued orders to block 22 illegal betting platforms, including the Mahadev app, on the request of the ED. Minister of state for electronics and IT Rajeev Chandrasekhar alleged that the Chhattisgarh government did not send any request to block these platforms despite having powers to do so.
“Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has issued blocking orders against 22 illegal betting apps & websites, including Mahadev Book…” the statement said. The action follows investigations conducted by the ED against illegal betting app syndicate and subsequent raids on Mahadev Book in Chhattisgarh, revealing the app’s unlawful operations.
“The Chhattisgarh government had all the power to recommend shutting down of website/app under Sec 69A IT Act. However, they did not do so and no such request is made by the state government while they have been investigating it for last 1.5 years. In fact, the first and only request has been received from ED and it has been acted upon. Nothing prevented Chhattisgarh Government from making similar requests,” Chandrasekhar said.
Baghel wondered on what basis some news channels have been running Soni’s video message. In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the CM said: “I wonder on what basis are all the responsible TV channels running the statement of an unknown person? Just because my name is in it? Is this not a case of defamation? It is no mystery why and how this video has come and it is also not difficult to understand that such a statement has been issued at the time of elections only to benefit the BJP.”
आज कुछ समाचार चैनलों ने एक वीडियो दिखाया है जिसमें एक व्यक्ति यह दावा कर रहा है कि वह मुझसे मिला और मैंने उसे संरक्षण देने का आश्वासन दिया और उसे दुबई जाकर व्यवसाय करने का भी सुझाव दिया.मुझे आश्चर्य है कि एक अनजान व्यक्ति के बयान को सभी ज़िम्मेदार टीवी चैनल किस आधार पर चला रहे…
— Bhupesh Baghel (@bhupeshbaghel) November 5, 2023
He alleged that this is being done by “weaponising the ED” and, in fact, the BJP is now contesting elections with the help of the agency. “First of all, I do not know this person nor have I ever met him in the way he is claiming. I can’t say if he was a part of any gathering or function. Secondly, this person is claiming that he is the owner of ‘Mahadev App’. Surprisingly, even the ED, the agency which has been investigating this case for months, was not aware of this and till two days ago, the ED was calling him a manager…” he said.